Sunday, August 14, 2022

Is SPARSH any good?

It is against this backdrop the CGDA has taken on more responsibility for itself and launched another scheme called SPARSH (System for   Pension Administration) related to defence pension management.    The initiative claims to be derived from the vision of Digital India, Direct Benefit Transfer and ‘minimal government, maximum governance’. In essence, it centralises the complete cycle of pension that includes initiation, sanction, disburse-ment, revision, service and grievance management under a single entity, the Defence Accounts Department.

SPARSH received negative publicity when over 50,000-odd defence pensioners who had been migrated to the scheme did not reportedly receive their pension in the month of April 2022. Apparently, their annual life certificates had not been received and the algorithm had done its job. The issue was immediately resolved and the pension disbursed. The pensioners were given more time to send their certificates. The episode however reflects a larger problem about assumptions related to leveraging Digital India.

Digitisation permits greater centralisation but simultaneously increases vulnerability. There are currently approximately 26 lakh defence pensioners and the number will only grow with time. When housed in a single system like SPARSH, its vulnerability to a cyber-attack cannot be ignored. Amongst other issues, a cyber-risk assessment should have given cause for caution. But even if it was done, it seems to have been overshadowed by the main argument – purportedly for saving money, sweet music to the ears of the bureaucracy and politicians.

The existing system of pension disbursement has public and private sector banks as intermediaries for which they charge a certain fee. SPARSH, it is said, requires no intermediaries. But for sure, it will require enhanced numbers of personnel and also infrastructure. Both these demand short-term and long-term financial outlays that may undermine the primary logic of savings. The existing system was partially outsourced, but the plan is to make it a purely governmental enterprise. So, it does not support the notion of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.

(Source : The Mint)

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